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Monday, January 9, 2012

“The Messenger’s Burden” - (01/08/12)

Malachi 1:1-5 (Message #1 in Malachi Series) 

            This morning we are starting a new teaching series in the Book of Malachi.  Although Malachi is a small book (4 chapters, 55 verses), the series will take us 8, or possibly 9 weeks to complete.
            You have probably noticed that I try to alternate between doing studies from the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Frankly, I personally find it easier to preach and teach from the New Testament because the Early Church culture was more similar to our own than that of the ancient Hebrews.  However, the Apostle Paul tell us in II Timothy 3:16-17 that, All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate [complete], equipped for every good work.”  Moreover, in Luke 24:25-27 we read of the conversation between the risen Christ and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “[Jesus] said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?’  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.”  And one more… in Acts 17 starting at verse 2 we read: “As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue [in Thessalonica], and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said.” 
            In each of these cases [and there are many more examples] the “Scriptures” that the preacher used were the Old Testament Scriptures, not the New Testament, for that hadn’t even been written yet.  I have actually had Christians tell me that they think I’m wasting my time, and theirs, by teaching from the OT because they believe that the OLD was superseded, made obsolete, and done away with by the NEW.  Apparently Jesus didn’t think so, and neither did the Apostle Paul nor any of the other writers of the NT, but what do they know?  Right?
            Having said all that, I want to explain specifically why I have chosen the Book of Malachi for our next series.  Many Christians do not know that there occurred a 400+ year gap between the last book of the OT and the beginning of the NT period.  It was a 400 year period of silence in which there was no prophet, no mouthpiece for God, no mediator between Jehovah God and His people, Israel.  During those 4 centuries Heaven remained silent.  God stopped taking Israel’s calls.  He did not check His voicemail messages.  He unplugged His answering machine.  He did not respond to their faxes and emails.  Their text messages went unanswered.  But why?  That’s what we are going to find out over the next few weeks.
            There are two good reasons why Malachi is listed as the last book in your Old Testament: (1) It is the last book of the section we call, “The Minor Prophets.”  Now lots of people think that means these 12 books are less important than the so-called, “Major Prophets.”  That’s untrue!  They are called Minor Prophets because of the length of the writings, not because of their relative importance.  The short books are just grouped together and Malachi is the last of those because it was the last one written.  (2) The second reason why Malachi is placed as the last book of the OT is that those scribes who set the order of our modern Bible (i.e. the translators of the Septuagint, aka LXX, the Greek Version of the OT completed in 132 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt) recognized that Malachi had the last word before communication between God and Israel broke down completely, only to be reestablished with the coming onto the scene by John, the Baptist, the last of the Old Dispensation prophets and the Forerunner for the Messiah.
            This morning we are only going to look at the first 5 verses of the text, but before we do that I want to give you some background information about this book, as well as an annotated outline that I hope will be of use to you.  I would encourage you to fold this and stick it in your Bible so that you have it with you throughout our coming weeks of study.  Also, I hope you will refer to it often as you take time to study Malachi on your own during the week.
[Pass out the Study Guides and go over the first two pages with them.]

Verse 1: The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.  
  • The word “oracle” used here in several of our versions is a translation of the Hebrew word meaning “burden or weighty message.”  This is more than just a personal conviction on the part of the Malachi.  It is a heavy message that God has given him to deliver to the people of Israel.  The designation of the prophecy as a burden indicates that the message is one of rebuke rather than comfort or encouragement.
  • An “oracle of the word of the LORD…”  This message originates with God.  It was not something that Malachi thought up.  I can tell you that Malachi was neither the first nor the last preacher to discover that proclaiming the Word of the Lord is a weighty responsibility (e.g. Jonah, Jeremiah, Moses, Elijah, etc.).  There are many times that it would be far easier just to say the things that the audience wants to hear.  In fact, many have gone that route.  There are churches all over this city, all over this country, where “the oracles of the word of the LORD” are never shared from the pulpit.  There are so-called messengers who bring no message from God, but merely from their own ideas or give little morality talks based on the current events.  In those churches you can die of spiritual starvation for want of the Living Bread.  But I’m an old-fashioned sort of preacher and I agree with Paul in II Corinthians 2:2, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you [in Corinth] except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  Similarly, he says in I Cor. 1:23, “…But WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”  Later on, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul advises: “I solemnly charge you… PREACH THE WORD; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (II Tim. 4:1-4).
  • The title “LORD” used here, all in capitals, is the personal, covenant name of God, i.e. Yahweh (Jehovah), and it is used exclusively in the book of Malachi.  Then starting down in verse 4 we begin to see this personal name coupled with another Hebrew word and the result is used 24 times in the book—“LORD of hosts.”  This is the translation of the compound name for God, Yahweh-Tzavaót (Sabaóth)    meaning “Yahweh, of hosts, or of armies” (c.f. I Samuel 1:3, 11).  The name pictures Yahweh as the commander of the angelic host and the armies of God.  (cf. also Isaiah 1:24; Psalm 46:7, 11; II Kings 3:9-12; Jeremiah 11:20 [NT: Romans 9:29; James 5:4; Revelation 19:11-16]).
  • The burden, the message, is so important that the message-bearer (Malachi) is overshadowed.  The prophet was merely acting as God’s tool, God’s megaphone, to transmit this last message from God to His people.

Verse 2-3: I have loved you,” says the LORD.  But you say, “How hast Thou loved us?”  “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD.  “Yet I have loved Jacob; 3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation, and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” 
  • The LORD starts out by once again declaring His love for the people of Israel, His covenant nation.  The truth is, God had told them many times that He loved them (cf. Deut. 4:37, 7:8, 10:15, 33:3, Jer. 31:3, Hosea 11:1, etc.).  Moreover, He had proven His love repeatedly throughout their history, despite their constant whining, complaining, rebellion, and adulterous relationships with foreign gods.
  • But notice their immediate response: How have You loved us?”  You can hear their snotty tone of voice coming through this question.  “You say that You love us, but what have You done for us lately?  Oh sure, You did some nice things a long time ago, in the days of our forefathers, but how come we never see any of that nowadays?  You love us?  Phooey!”
  • You’ll notice that this book is built around a series of these little dialogues between God and the people.  God makes an assertion and then the people throw up a defensive, argumentative question, over and over again.  These conversations remind me of conversations between a loving and patient parent and a spoiled, bratty teenager.  No matter what the Dad says, the smart-alecky kid has an excuse or a smoke-screen.
  • God’s answer: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD.  “Yet I have loved Jacob…”  On the surface this seems like a strange answer to their question.  Why would God bring this up and how does it prove His love for Israel?  First of all, you have to remember that before Jacob there was no such thing as “Israel.”  The name “Israel” is Jacob’s other name, the one Yahweh gave to him clear back in Genesis 35:9-12.  The name Jacob literally means “he who grasps the heel,” also translated as “supplanter” meaning someone who cheats someone out of what is rightfully theirs.  That’s what Jacob did to his brother Esau.  He cheated Esau out of his legal birthright as the eldest son of Isaac.  This kind of shenanigan came naturally to Jacob because he was a devious little weasel from the day of his birth, which is exactly why his father gave him that name.  However, God in His sovereignty chose to use that low-down lying punk Jacob to carry out His master plan.  However, He had to do several attitude adjustments on Jacob before He could use the guy.  One of those experiences involved an all-night wrestling match that left Jacob with a permanent limp and a whole different perspective on God.  It was after that when God changed Jacob’s name to “Israel,” which means, “he struggles with God.”  Here’s the passage in Genesis 35:9-12— “Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him.  10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; yet you shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.”  Thus He called him Israel.  11 God also said to him, “I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from you.  12 The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you.”  
  • Jacob and Esau were twins but Esau came out of the womb first so technically he was the first-born, in line to receive the bulk of his father Isaac’s estate.  But into this picture steps the LORD.  He chose to do His redemptive work, not through the lineage of the elder son but through the younger.  Why?  I think it was to prove that He could use even a donkey like Jacob.  Later on, the Lord chose David, the youngest of the household of Jesse, to become King of Israel.  Why?  I think again that it was to prove that nothing could stop Him from working out His sovereign plan to one day bring to His covenant people their promised Messiah, who would willingly give His life as the ultimate sacrifice for their sins.  You see, that’s how God spells LOVE!
  • So what’s this about God “hating Esau”?  What did Esau ever do to deserve such “hatred” from God?  First we need to look at this word, “hate.”  Many times in the Scriptures we see this word used in the comparative sense rather than in the absolute sense (e.g. Gen. 29:30-31; Deut. 21:15-16; Prov. 13: 24; Matt. 6:24; etc.), where the thought is love less versus love more.  For His own reasons God chose to pour out His favor on Jacob rather than on Esau.  He chose Jacob.  He did not choose Esau.  And this preference for Jacob was expressed in His electing grace in extending His covenant to Jacob and his descendants (cf. Gen. 25:21-26; Isaiah 44:1-5, etc.).  Whether or not we think it’s “fair” God fixed His love on the one and not on the other, and chose to carry out His redemptive plan through Jacob’s seed, not Esau’s.  The Apostle Paul explains this in detail in the NT in Romans 9:10-18.  But to be honest with you, my biggest question is not why the scripture says that God hated Esau, but why it says that God loved Jacob.  To me, that’s the harder question to answer.
  • We know that God does not exercise His sovereignty to deliberately reprobate or damn anyone.  However, God’s anger and hatred toward the sons of Esau was well deserved after their continued opposition to Jehovah through the centuries.  Esau turned out to be a prideful, wicked man and so did those who came after him (cf. Gen. 26:34; 27:41; Obadiah 10-14, etc.).  His descendants, the Edomites, set themselves against God and walked in the paths of prideful rebellion, wickedness, and idolatry, not to mention their maltreatment of their Israelite cousins.  The Babylonian invasion resulted in their destruction and captivity, but even through all that they refused to turn to the God of Abraham.  At the time of Malachi they had come back into their land and were vowing to rebuild, but God says here that He will tear down everything that they put up so that their land will serve as a constant reminder and warning to other nations.  Look at it in verse 4.

Verse 4: Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the LORD of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them ‘the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever.’”
  • The Edomites, who were the descendants of Esau, were a wicked and stiff-necked outfit.  Moreover, they were a constant thorn in the heel of Israel.  They wanted nothing to do with God, and they hated Israel, an adversarial relationship going clear back to the time of Jacob and Esau.
  • Though Esau in his pride should attempt to rebuild his waste places, God says that He will throw down whatever he builds.  Every attempt of the Edomites to rebuild their land will meet with defeat.  God vows that He will never allow Edom to regain its former position and power.  Moreover, He says that men will come to realize that the desolate condition of Edom is because of their sins and their rebellion against Almighty God.  Historically, God’s final destruction of the Edomites was carried out by the Nabatean Arabs who between 550 and 400 B.C. drove them permanently from their land so that Esau’s heritage became a desert place, fit only for jackals and other wilderness beasts (cf. verse 3).

Verse 5: And your eyes will see this and you will say, “The LORD be magnified beyond the border of Israel!”
  • Malachi seems to infer here that his Jewish contemporaries would witness the conquest of Edom.  Their descendants would, at any rate.  And when Israel should behold Edom in perpetual ruins but Jerusalem rebuilt and restored, she would have to recognize God’s love for them, and would offer praise to Him.  Moreover, their praise and worship would spill over their borders as a witness to the nations around about, so that they too would come to magnify the name of Yahweh, the God of Israel, the LORD of hosts.
  • That’s what was supposed to happen.  That’s what should have happened.  That’s what God and Malachi hoped would happen.  But is that what really happened?  Sadly, no.  We will see in the weeks to come that the hardness of the people’s hearts deafened their ears to the prophet’s message, and blinded them to the reality of God’s love for them.

            This final book of the Old Testament is about the error of forgetting the love of God and what that causes.  When people forget God’s love, it affects their attitudes, their families, and their worship.  When we begin to doubt God’s love and loyalty our sacred commitments no longer remain sacred.  God sent Malachi to awaken the people from their spiritual indolence and to exhort them to return to the living God.  But this book reveals a people who question both the reality of their sin as well as the faithfulness of their God, a people whose hearts have become spiritually hardened.  Thus you’ll see that the Book of Malachi ends on a poignant note, in a confrontation between a disappointed God and a disappointed people.
The Book of Malachi lowers the curtain on the Old Testament.  Malachi brings us to the edge of a great canyon, with the whining and argumentative voices of the people on one side, and the stern warnings of God on the other.  Only the Lord Himself could provide a way out of this stalemate.  Malachi looks forward in faith to a day of future deliverance, when he speaks of the one who would someday appear to prepare the way for the Messiah.  For indeed, the promised Messiah was the only One who could bridge that widening chasm between the people and their God.
           That’s true for us as well.  Only Christ can bridge the gap between God and us.  Our sin is what separates us from Him.  The blood of Jesus is the only solution.  Have you, like the children of Israel, doubted God’s love for you?  Have you questioned whether He really cares?  The proof of His love for you is that He sent His only begotten Son so that if you will but believe in Him with all your heart and accept His sacrifice in your place, you will not perish but will have eternal life.

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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